Hey, BTRC here. I’ve been playing CCGs since the very start. Literally. I was friends with Peter Adkison back when pre-Hasbro Wizards of the Coast was still doing RPGs. Peter sent me a dozen or so Alpha decks of some game called “Magic: the Gathering” to give away at the local store just to get people interested in it. Giving away Alpha MtG decks…if I’d known what they would be worth I could have held onto them and sold them for enough to put a down payment on a house. Sigh.

But anyways, I think the “getting people interested in it” thing worked out fairly well…

Now, I never was and never will be a top tier player, mostly because I am too stingy with my time and money to devote that level of effort to it (I did play in the very first MtG Pro Tour, though (4-3 for what it is worth, lost to ErnhamGeddon decks)). So, Orc Clerics are a natural for me because the deck is fast to play and cheap to build.

Champion Choice

Now, a bit of trash talking. The reason I am using Orc Clerics instead of Orc Warriors is because the Orc Clerics are better-looking and better fighters. Just look at the art. Veteran Gladiator, Te’talca, Poca, Fierce Warlord, Arena Regular. Do the Orc Warriors have anything that can compare with that? Hell no. Orc Warriors get Shamed Gladiator. Hah. And when Te’talca gets promoted, what does she do? Goes from Warrior to Cleric. And can an Orc Warrior deck swing for 15 points on the third turn? I think not. Orc Clerics are what Orc Warriors want to be when they grow up. So, we have a few in the deck so we can teach them and send them back to show their friends what real Orcs do in battle.

zoot orc cleric

Now, why is this Zoot’s guide to dungeon thrashing? Well, my keep name in Hex is “Castle Anthrax”, and if it needs more explanation than that, you’ll have to look it up yourself.

Deck Strategy

First, the bad news: You cannot build the deck you want. The first thing you have to do is use a pre-constructed deck to battle some foes, and while this is meant to get new players some experience, everyone still has to do it. The good news is that once you are through, you should have leveled up and gotten your first Talent point, and the ability to adjust your deck.

Now, back to the bad news part. The number of a given card you can have is based on its rarity. For a mono-Ruby Orc Cleric deck, this is going to start at:

-1 of each Unique

-1 of each Rare

-2 of each Uncommon

-3 of each Common

-1 of each rarity of Artifact

This is not going to change until you hit Level 4, when you can have 3 of each Uncommon, so get used to it for a while. No 4x Quash Ridge Tuskers for you…

Champion design

The main thing I am looking at for high cleric Zoot is to not have any ability that detracts from the speed of the deck. If there is a card added that I need to cast, it better do as much for me as my Orcs or burn spells can. So, the Blessings are a natural choice, since they cost 0 and replace themselves with a card draw. Anything that starts the game in play or adjusts my starting stats or cards also works, and this does not even require adjusting the shard base of the deck. My choices for the first Talent point was the perk that gives all your Clerics Lifedrain. This is a gamesaver. It lets you ignore your defense a lot of the time and just race your foe to the bottom. You have a deck with about half of your troops having Lifedrain (11 out of 24), and the ability to give them Swiftstrike, Crush or Rage (your Blessings also give a random troop you control Rage 1). Pick this Talent for 1 point and do not worry about any other Talent points until you have at least 4 more to spend. Trust me, you can kick butt with just the lifegain Talent and this deck.

As we level up and face more challenges, the goal of this deck is “stay pure”. Nothing but Ruby Orcs for troops and Clerics whenever possible. No idea how far you can take this, but we’ll find out.

The Deck

Zoot’s Orc Clerics

(Yes, it is 63 cards. Sue me.)

All of this means that if you already have the Orc starter deck or starter card set, you can probably build this deck for the cost of 1-of on the rares or uniques, so this is about a US$10 deck, depending on what you may have picked up in the Frost Ring. Whether or not it has what it takes for the Dungeon is another matter. Spoiler: It does.

The theme of the deck is evasion, swiftstrike, life gain and rage. As an Orc Cleric, one of the troops in your starting hand gets Rage 1. So, there is a good chance you will start play with an Orc that has Rage and Lifedrain or Rage and “can only be blocked by Ruby or Artifact troops”. Both of which are good things, I hear. And from experience, you really do not need to spend any more Talent points until you get to level 6, at which point you will have enough available to do something useful.

As to why each card is there:

The Cards

Xocoy, High Cleric: An Orc Cleric, so it has Lifedrain. Equipped with the gems that let it do 4 damage to opposing champion when it comes into play (and thus 4 life for you) and can only be blocked by Ruby or Artifact troops. And it has the Armor of the High Cleric, which means when it comes into your hand you get a random Orc that costs 1 directly into play. It is expensive to cast, and if I had all the rarity slots I wanted I would use something cheaper, but you work with what you are allowed to use.

Zoltog: Not a Cleric, but the ability to generate Savage Raiders when any Orc (i.e. all your troops) do damage is often an “I win next turn” ability and goes well with your unblockable guys. And a 4/4 for 4 is not terrible either.

Te’Talca, Orc Gladiator: Not a Cleric, but can turn into one. It is another “play it the turn before you win” card.

Quash Ridge Tusker: The ability to rage and add your rage to someone else makes for exceptional damage ramping. Orc Cleric numero uno, even if he is a man.

Fierce Warlord: Merely okay by itself, it has the bonus of being a Cleric and giving 7 other Orcs in the deck a +1/+1 boost. Or, as we like to say, behind every cheap Orc is a woman who makes him twice as effective.

Furious Taskmaster: With equipment, gives other Orcs rage and speed. And is a Cleric. If you have 3 shards in play, this means 12 of your troops can be dropped, raged and speeded.

Veteran Gladiator: Also a Cleric. The mandatory attack is a minus, but making the opponent’s best blocker refuse to defend is often a game winner when combined with Crushing Blow. Leaving yourself defenseless is no drawback if your opponent is dead afterwards.

Savage Raider: Cheap and fast. With Ruby Aura, Crushing Blow and Shatter Shield, can survive an amazingly long time. I have beat AI’s in the opening Campaign with nothing but one Savage Raider and some perserverance. It helps that if you only have a Savage Raider in your hand, he gets Rage 1. Toss in a Ruby Aura and there are few things he cannot kill.

Brutal Commander: A decent defense, rage and the ability to fetch more Orcs. This ability is priceless in a deck without any other card draw. Since many of the Orcs in the deck have special abilities, you can pick one for what you think you need on the next turn. Speed & rage? Taskmaster. A bunch of 1-drops already in play? Fierce Warlord. Annoying blocker? Veteran Gladiator or Ridge Raider. Got the mana for something big? Zoltog, Te’talca, or Xocoy (if you fetch Xocoy with Brutal Commander, his equipment ability does trigger).

Arena Brawler: Generic common Orc Cleric. He’s the first troop to be substituted in for when you get better rarity slots.

Gem-crazed Berserker: Only useful because he is equipped with the gem that makes him unblockable to non-Ruby or Artifact troops. Which makes him quite useful when you consider the chance he will end up with Rage. We’ll substitute him out eventually as well.

Shatter Shield: It is like 4 points of burn to a blocker. And with equipment it does 1 more damage to all blockers (so, 5 to the original target), so it can make short work of a massed weenie defense and is a surprise kick in the teeth to swiftstrike or lethal blockers.

Crushing Blow: You must use this card. With equipment, the Orc you put it on gets +3/+2 and Crush, and all other attacking Orcs get +1/+0. And the key thing is that you can use this on the Tusker after you target its ability but before it resolves, so if you have a Tusker in the attack, you get the +3 attack from the Crushing Blow twice (once on the Tusker and again when he passes that +3 to someone else and +1 more for that Orc from the Crushing Blow bonus). Which means that with a Tusker and 1 other Orc, a Crushing Blow gives you +7 damage for 1 shard. Like I said, you must use this card.

Burn: Early game blocker removal or late game finisher. Simple, but not really anything better in terms of cost/damage ratio for Quick spells and helps shift the tempo in your favor.

Crackling Bolt: Gets you an extra charge, which is great for generating Blessings. Crackling Bolt is a card where I may put sub in something else in for dungeon use, like Volley or Boulder Toss or one of the dungeon reward cards. We’ll see.

Ruby Aura: +1/+0 and Swiftstrike as a Quick Action is a really useful combat trick for a deck with a lot of low defense creatures. It also generally gets rid of anything that can block your “can only be blocked by Ruby or Artifact” troops. And on a Lifedrain creature, makes a great stay-at-home blocker against decks that insist on attacking you.

Cosmic Totem: This is usually a dead card, but in a few of the matches it is a game-saver if you have it.

Possible substitutions

Volley (Precision Bow (weapon)): Possible substitute for Shatter Shield (both of which use the Weapon equipment slot). Unpredictable, but can hit the Champion for a bunch or weaken/eliminate a lot of weenie defenders.

Boulder Toss: A last ditch way to burn the dome of a foe if you cannot get through defenses, possible substitute for Shatter Shield or Crackling Bolt.

I have a few other ideas of what might work here, like the new cards Purging Flames or Dream Skarn or Adaptatron, but we’ll have to wait until I own some to try them out.

Campaign Strategy

1) Min-max the Orc Cleric setup until it bleeds efficiency and then mop up that blood and paint my face with it so it doesn’t go to waste. Done.

2) Drive my enemies before me and hear the lamentation of their menfolk (i.e. win before the AI gets its butt in gear)

3) Figure out where the AI is predictable and how to take advantage of it. If AI champions have a power that can target my troops, figure out how to minimize the damage done by it.

4) Ravish, pillage and burn. In that order.

5) Go to step 2, repeat as necessary

Campaign Tips: Start –> The Bleak Citadel

This not going to be a hand-holding step-by-step. You’re Orcs, you fight your way through on your own terms. But, here are a few helpful tips:

0) You get 1 free Mulligan per encounter, remember to use it!

1) Red flags mean there is something you need to complete there, even if you have already been there. Completing quests is the usual reason.

2) Completing quests may cause new spots to open up in areas of the map that may be off-screen, depending on your monitor.

3) You do not need to spend any more talent points until you hit level 6, but if you really want you can pick up The Righteous Path when you hit level 4. I didn’t bother and it did not slow me down any.

4) Blue mushrooms are your friends and they give you stuff.

5) Traveling caravans likewise, though you usually have to pay them. Tip: You can do this again once each day.

6) Multiple dialog choices do not seem to make much difference unless they are highlighted in color. I was a rude and overbearing Orc and did just fine.

7) All the quests are worth experience and often give you cards.

8) Be careful on some of the “Taming” quests. I killed the AI so fast on several that the requisite creature to tame never showed up in time (pesky Savage Raiders and Veteran Gladiators having to always attack and stuff like that). But, if this happens you can go back and try the location again at no penalty.

9) For that matter, you can fight just about any encounter again. You get less XP and gold, but you do get some. No extra copies of special rewards for most of them, though.

10) Stay away from the Zila River. The piranha will eat you alive. And continue eating you after you are dead. And then chew up your bones.

11) Do not take the center route when returning from the desert with gnomes. Bad news. Maybe go back later when you feel like a serious challenge and/or test of your luck. Hint: Adjust your deck to go heavy on creatures and light on actions if you try this route.

12) I took all the gnomes with me on the way back. Maybe I got lucky, but I pulled it off (using the west route). Actually, I was quite lucky, so maybe you should not do it in one trip.

13) You will probably be level 4 before you reach the Bleak Citadel. If you want, take the time to adjust your deck a little bit since you now have extra Uncommon slots available.

14) There are a few places where if you have a Cosmic Totem to play, you will be glad you had it. You’ll know them when you see them. I’m not going to say it was vital, but it sure was nice and made winning a whole lot easier. But, you can only have one in the deck because of construction limitations, so even though there are encounters where you might want more than one, one is all you get.

15) You can adjust your deck in between encounters, but not in the middle of multi-fight encounters (like the Bleak Citadel). You do not really need to, but you can.

16) Ignore the magic gates in the west and the improvised barricade for now. We’ll deal with them after the Bleak Citadel.

17) Remember that you have unlimited “lives” outside of the Dungeon encounters, so if you mess up, just try again.

18) Amusing tip: A troop with Lifedrain in your hand gives you Health if a “if this is in your hand it does X damage to you” effect is put on it. There are game effects that can make this happen, and if they hit a Cleric in your hand it ends up doing nothing as the life gain offsets the damage.

19) Tactics guide: 1) play Orc, 2) Swing with Orc, 3) Burn stuff, 4) Go to step 1

This deck does not really have any guides for specific encounters up through the Bleak Citadel. If competently played it rolls almost all of them with no deck changes (see #10 and #11 for exceptions). The vast majority of the encounters do not have any Ruby or Artifact troops, so you just rage your way around their defenses, using strategic burn and combat tricks to remove enemy troops, with maybe a little Burn held aside just in case you need to crisp something as the AI tries to use a charge power on their own guys. You try to keep your Lifedrain troops alive, and remember than any Ruby-heavy encounters are likely to have burn to throw at things (including Heat Wave, which absolutely wrecks you if you did not hold something in reserve). Knowing when to play a Veteran Gladiator instead of a Brutal Commander, or leaving someone behind with Lifedrain to chumpblock while saving enough resources to play a Ruby Aura is about as deep as you need to get in terms of tactics.

Some of the encounters are tough and have to be played competently, but a lot of them will be over without the AI ever laying a glove on you. You’ll be like “What do you mean I defeated the Bleak Citadel boss in 4 turns and had 32 life left?” (which is exactly what happens when you have a Rage 2 Tusker in your opening hand and a 2-drop followup with combat tricks).

Leveling up

If you make it through the Bleak Citadel you should be near or at Level 6 and have 4 unspent Talent points. If you need some more XP, go back to the Army of Myth encounter. You can do this at increasing levels of difficulty and get decent XP rewards for it. Time to upgrade your Champion. Add the following:

Level 4:

The Righteous Path (2 points): You start play with a Monument of Faith, all your creatures have Steadfast. As mentioned earlier I did not do this until Level 6 and it did not slow me down. But it is absolutely amazing in defense when paired with Swiftstrike and Lifedrain.

Level 6:

Faith in our Leader (2 points): If you have 25 Health or more, troops you draw get +1 defense. This will be more useful when we get 1 more Talent point and can buy Hale, which will make our starting Health 25.

Level 7:

Hale: +3 starting Health. This gives you a starting Health of 25, so until you take damage all your troop draws are +1 defense. This is really useful.

Level 8:

Hearty: +3 Starting Health. Starts you at a Health of 28, which gives you a little more breathing room to get your Lifedrain troops in play to maintain the +1 defensive bonus on drawn troops.

Campaign Tips: The Bleak Citadel –> Devonshire Keep

So, I’m writing right now from the lofty perspective of Level 8 (right…) and so I’ve got a better idea of what is in store for mono-Ruby Orc Clerics than I did at Level 6. The big thing is that you are going to be running into a lot more board-clearing effects. Or effects that clear your board, which is all that matters. Random Heat Waves, cards that give all your creatures -1/-1 while giving your opponent 2 charges, 5 damage to all creatures, or every time the AI takes damage all your creatures take a point of damage. AI foes that start with 40 or 60 Health and cannot be bum-rushed into oblivion before they pull a flaming zombie giant out of their hat and sic it on you. And plenty of enemy troops that are outside 2-point Burn range. And, the AI’s are now smart enough to play removal in response to combat tricks like Crushing Blow, so you have to keep an eye on the resources they have available for things like Repel, Burn or Crackling Rot.

So, dealing with this means a shift in deck focus to a slightly longer term, more durable aggro. This is the adjusted deck build at Level 7 and this handles most of the more difficult encounters. Note that all the heavies from the original build are gone. Honestly, the number of games I won because I had a costly 1-of in my hand at the right time were very few. I’d rather have cheaper stuff that I have a better chance of playing. But my starting build worked fine and was created not knowing what I would run into. In hindsight, I might make some tweaks, but I can’t argue with its performance.

Now, your rarities for Level 7 and 8 are 4/3/2/1 for Common/Uncommon/Rare/Unique, and here’s the default build for that level:

Orc Cleric Level 7 – 9
2 Quash Ridge Tusker
2 Goremaster (if you can Rage him he becomes a real beast)
3 Veteran Gladiator
3 Fierce Warlord
3 Furious Taskmaster
3 Brutal Commander
4 Ridge Raider

Actions, Artifacts, Constants
4 Burn
4 Ruby Lance
4 Shatter Shield
4 Ruby Aura
4 Crushing Blow

22 Ruby Shard

Orc Cleric_

If you compared this to the original build (old/new):

Number of troops: 24/20

Number of Clerics: 11/13

Average attack(default): 1.9/1.5

Average defense(default): 1.7/1.7

Average troop cost: 2.3/1.8

Where the improvement comes from is Champion and troop special abilities, and lower casting costs. The ratio of troops with Lifedrain goes from 46% to 65%. The odds for a Fierce Warlord to pump 1-drops or for a Furious Taskmaster to Rage them are improved by 50%, and you are almost guaranteed that the first troop or two you draw is at +1 defense. Your burn spells go from an average damage of 2.5 to at least 3, though the average casting cost goes from 1.5 to 2. However, they are all Quick Actions now.

Tough Encounters

This build did the Tomb of the Rose Knights at Level 7. But elsewhere, there are a few spots where you need to customize and be creative if you are going to stick with the “pure Orc” format and still win. Some of the trick is just to adjust your strategy for the ones difficult for this race/class. The first trick is that the tent cities let you buy a card reading once a day, so you can get a one-shot buff that may make all the difference. The best of these buffs for you is the one that has each player start the game with an Incantation of Righteousness. With your lifegain you can quickly ramp it into a 4/4 Lifedrain troop and give all your other troops +2/+2. After that:

Pirhanas: It can’t be done with the pure format. You can look up decks to build if you want to beat it just for the sake of beating it, but they won’t be Ruby Orc Cleric decks.

Improvised Barricade: Nothing but artifacts and Ruby troops, making your evasion abilities useless. Best thing is to go for Swiftstrike in your opening hand and just Rage your way through. The Swiftstrike is for keeping the pesky Knights off your case when they start showing up. Save your Shatter Shields and Crushing Blows for them rather than trying to knock down the defensive towers.

Tomb of the Rose Knights (Dungeon): Not all that bad, actually. The above build got me through it, but not the Devonshire Keep build (you want the Crushing Blows for the Rose Knights dungeon). The worst boss is the Chained Goliath (in the Burial Vault). He will wreck you. The trick is to not get him to less than 25 Health until you are ready to swing for the kill. His board-clearing effect only triggers once his Health gets to a certain point, so you take him from 25 to zero in one swoop to avoid it. This is easier said than done.

Here’s a trick to consider if he wrecks you. The Chained Goliath wrecks you by playing (for free) a Ruby spell that is played automatically when drawn and does damage to all troops equal to the number of charges you have. This will usually be 5 damage. And then he uses his charge ability to drop a pair of 3/1’s with Speed and then casts several other creatures. One of the things the Chained Goliath often plays afterwards is a Putrid Zombie (3/1), which when it dies puts 2 random cards from a player’s crypt back in their hand. If he plays it, burn it. The only card in his crypt is the “burn everything” spell, he redraws it, immediately plays it again and board wipes himself, while you get back 2 of the troops he just killed.

Wormoid Queen: Most of the tunneled Wormoids pop up faster the more cards you play. Getting through this one requires a good opening hand and a Dune-like strategy of not rousing the Wormoids unnecessarily. You play one or two creatures, hopefully with Rage, and then start swinging. This is where your increased rarity spots help, because you can have 2 Quash Ridge Tuskers now, doubling the chance of one in your opening hand. You can just be horribly unlucky in terms of which Wormoids pop up first, so it may will take several attempts. One thing to remember is to not play any cards or resources until after the combat step. You may be like “Aha! Crushing Blow for the win!” and the Wormoid Queen says “Oh, you played a card, let me pop up three Wormoids that say “When this comes into play all your troops take damage equal to the number of Wormoids in play. Sucks to be you!

Killipede(s): This is a royal pain in the posterior. You need to adjust your deck to maximize the number of available troops. Killipedes are not content to stay home and block, so things like Shatter Shield do not do you much good, and you need burn that can do 5 damage to a Killipede. Winning this is not about life, it is about not getting toxified. So, consider the following:

Veteran Raider (can one-shot create a Scarless Raider)

Ruby Lance (with equipment, you can nix a Killipede as a Quick Action once you have 4 shards in play)

Savage Raider (he’s cheap, and you will appreciate being able to get stuff in play)

First Blood (creates 2 Scarless Raiders)

Ancestral Ire (does damage to a troop equal to the number of troops in your crypt)

Runic Monolith (exhaust target troop, so you can keep the Killipede boss pinned down a lot easier)

Cosmic Totem (just to improve your chances of drawing a troop once a bunch of them are dead)

Spitfire Elemental (Devonshire Keep): This AI has the special ability that each time it takes damage, you and your troops take 1 damage. So if you attack with a defense 1 troop, it dies afterwards. Ditto for attacking with two defense 2 troops, etc. So, your only way to win is one troop at a time. And that troop needs to have a defense of 2+, and preferably Lifedrain and Rage. Save your removal spells to get potential blockers out of the way and ration your Fierce Warlords and 1-drops to get the maximum defensive benefit. This is where the Goremasters shine, especially if you drew into one that starts as 1/4.

Devonshire Keep (Dungeon): This requires a strategy all its own. Wiktor (the boss) has a huge amount of graveyard recursion and deck manipulation going in with his abilities and creatures, and you really do not want him getting that crap back in his hand. He also starts with a Spitfire Elemental in play (2/3, you and your troops take a damage each on his upkeeps). So, getting rid of that turn 1 or 2 is vital. We use a pair of Cosmic Totems to help with graveyard problems, and Purging Flames could also be good if you have it. And because he is running “all your creatures get -1/-1” cards, having creatures with an inherent defense of 2+ is nice. This is the build that finally got me through to him (take the right-hand route) and then beat him at Level 8:

Orc Cleric Devonshire

Yeah, it is 62 cards. I’ve beat him twice. You really prefer to go first on this one, and you must have a Crackling Bolt or a Burn in your opening hand to get rid of that Spitfire Elemental. Do not laugh at the 2x Cosmic Totems. They were pivotal in both my wins. Wiktor has some amazing Ruby cards and you can steal them from his crypt with the totem. In one game I took his Spitfire Elemental and got lucky enough to play it against him. In the other game, winning was aided by taking all the nasty super toxins in my Crypt and giving them to Wiktor, who dutifully played them and gave me the bonuses. And having a 48/4 Lifedrain Rage Swiftstrike Steadfast Goremaster did not hurt matters either. Though I was kicking myself for taking out the Crushing Blows at that point and it took forever to beat down defenders until I could swing through for the win (and a remaining Health total of 284).

Where to go from here: Grind to Level 9, I suppose. From Level 8 to 9 is 15,000 experience, so it will take a while. You can go trash the lower level Dungeons and get some more card packs, tame a zoo full of creatures or pit yourself against the Army of Myth and see how high up you can get.

BTRC is Greg Porter, a hermit-like game designer, publisher and freelancer living in Southwest Virginia. He has done work for GURPS, Hero System, and Traveller, as well as publishing rpg's like EABA under the Blacksburg Tactical Research Center imprint, and is currently wasting far too much time on this Hex nonsense.


  1. As I recall, the shard mix didn’t really change between levels 8 and 9, so there was no change in quantity for anything. I think the last talent point was spent on a Health buff. Have not seen any need to swap in any Set 4 cards yet.

    And to answer the previous comment in a far-too-belated fashion, if I was going to drop a few cards it would depend on the encounter. It would probably be the Quash Ridge Tusker (who is fragile), or the Goremaster (who is slow).


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